Lately the topic of Pre-Teens comes up more and more, especially as we develop marketing plans for Project Natal (check out Milo and Kate to see what kinds of things are coming). I think it's great that my kids can be my very own focus group, and though I'm not "Super Dad" by any means, I spend a lot of time, attention, and--er--money on my four pre-teens (ages 7 to 12).
One thing I can tell you is that targeting pre-teens as a group is almost impossible. And not especially effective. My 7 year old girl (or for that matter my 9 year old girl) is as different as can be than my 12-year old son.
They don't play the same games. One of my boys likes music games like Rock Band, and the other likes RPGs and FPSs (thank goodness for Parental Controls). My 9 year old daughter would rather play games on the PC than the Xbox 360, and my 7 year old rarely plays the Xbox 360 (gasp!--I can't even market to her effectively, and I'm somewhat an infuencer in her world--and in the family gatekeeper, her mom!).
They don't value the same things (pleasing parents isn't at the top of my 12 year old's list of motivations). My daughter thinks it cool when I chaperone her field trips, and still wants to hold my hand when she crosses the street. My boy wants to pretend he doesn't know me when I chaperone his PTO activites.
They don't eat the same kinds of food. One of our kids is conscientious about what she eats, and tries to avoid too much junk food. Another can't get enough sugar. My 12 year old is learning to cook, and he likes things that are homemade more than packaged. They're actually getting tired of pizza, and their taste is evolving away from McDonalds to towards Red Robin.
They don't watch the same TV shows. My 12 year old isn't watching Disney Channel. My 9 year old boy wants to be like his 12 year old brother, but he still thinks Drake and Josh are funny. My 9 year old daughter would rather play outside than watch TV, but likes iCarly, and watching American Idol with her mom. My 7 year old still likes kids' shows like Words World, and gets nightmares when she watches scary parts of movies.
They don't wear the same clothing brands. Wearing an Xbox 360 shirt makes my boys cooler with their friends. My daughter will wear Microsoft tee shirts, but only at home when she's playing or working.
So it turns out that having one view of what a "Pre-teen" is could really limit how effective you are at reaching them with the right message. Come to think of it, nobody matches their "demographic profile". The trick is finding ways to efficiently reach smaller and smaller target markets with authentic, relevant messaging. Easier said than done!